Monday, November 28, 2005

Rubbish, Better, Best

I watched Saturday's Manchester City v Liverpool fixture in a pub in Liverpool city centre, which was showing the game pirated from Qatari television. The contrast between the bitter cold of a Manchester November during the game, and the exotic Qatari advertisements underlined again the enduring international appeal of the Premiership. The half-time analysis was impenetrable except for repeated references to "Crouch", proving that despite the distance from the subject the discussion topics (in this case the current travails of that unfortunate figure) remain the same.

One wonders, however, how long the league's global appeal can hold in the face of repeated doses of footballing dirge like that on display on Saturday at Eastlands. The Qatari broadcaster's production values were as glossy and shimmering as anything Sky can manage, but, as the British broadcaster is learning, the product is now more often than not a dull letdown when contrasted with its shiny wrapping.

In some ways I was grateful for the continuing struggles of Liverpool's towering striker, for at least it provided some distraction, a mildly diverting sub-plot if you will, from the stultifying inadequacy of the play. Even the City fans grumbled, though their team were losing, at the three minutes the referee added. Both Rafael Benitez and Stuart Pearce are building dogged, defensively stout teams. While City's contribution to the lack of excitement is due to their creatively bereft midfield, Liverpool's was explained both by the absence of the string-pulling Xabi Alonso (which left the overwhelming burden for creativity on Steven Gerrard) and the cluenessness of their strike force. Crouch receives the bulk of the scorn for this, but he deserves sympathy for having to try to cope with his brainless partner Djibril Cisse.

A glance through the match reports from the weekend illustrates that most of the games were afflicted by this wretchedness, so thank goodness, in the weekend that the game paid tribute to George Best, that West Ham and Manchester United provided at least a small fraction of the joy which Best delivered in spades. The Hammers have been praised in these parts before for their commitment to attacking football and Upton Park remains a ground I would choose to watch football in above of most others in the league.

But yesterday was all about Manchester United and, whether liberated from the glowering spectre of Roy Keane, or possessed by the spirit of Best, they played their best football in some time and resembled a more familiar United than the one which has struggled so often recently.

The parallels between the two players mean that Wayne Rooney would always receive some of the reflected attention from the wave of Best tributes. It has, however, become a hallmark of the young Scouser's career that he tends to seize the moment on such occasions, and once again yesterday, he displayed that (movingly familiar) trajectory to greatness.


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